Rory McIlroy, who shared the lead after firing a 5-under 67 on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Championship, was stuck in neutral for much of his second round as he sandwiched seven pars between two bogeys on his first and ninth holes.
The second nine (he started on No. 10) was a different story, as the world’s No. 2 picked up where he left off after Thursday’s sizzling start and posted three birdies to get to 1-under for the day -- good enough to maintain an early share of the 36-hole clubhouse lead with Ryder Cup teammate Lee Westwood and Rod Pampling.
On a morning when Australian journeyman Scott Gardiner scorched the front nine at Quail Hollow to the tune of five birdies, including four in a row before making the turn at 5-under 31, most of those with a.m. tee times struggled to get into red numbers. McIlroy was one of them, until he went on a birdie barrage of his own on the way in.
His back-nine turn-around on Friday put McIlroy in the clubhouse with at least a share of the lead for only the second time this season, Thursday being the first. The two-time major champion whose last competitive round was a 69 on Sunday at the Masters (where he tied for 25th) still had a scrum of players to contend with, including Gardiner, who was at 7-under for the week through 14 holes after going back-to-back-to-back-to-back on holes six through nine.
A bunch of guys, many of whom had yet to tee off in the afternoon wave, were within chipping distance of the co-leaders.
For McIlroy, the start to the tourney must have offered a serious boost to his confidence as he looks ahead to next week’s Players Championship. He certainly appeared to have put the terrible start to his season -- which included a much-criticized equipment change, a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, a first-round ouster from match play, a controversial withdrawal from the Honda Classic, and a tweak to his swing -- behind him.
''Now that I feel like I'm swinging it well, this is the sort of golf I expect to play,'' McIlroy told reporters after his opening round.
Work with swing coach Michael Bannon seemed to pay off.
''It's big strides because my game wasn't where it should have been at all at the start of the year. Got into a couple of bad habits on my swing, and it just took me a little bit of time to get out of them,” McIlroy said. “I feel a lot more comfortable with my swing and a lot more comfortable with where my game is at, so that's always going to make it easier.”